Understanding the Old Testament - Lesson 1

Nature of the Bible

The Old Testament, comprising over 75% of the Christian Bible, is deeply Gospel-centered and relevant for Christians today. It is not merely a Jewish text but a God-breathed book, infused with life and meaning by the Spirit of Christ. Through a theological center, unified thematic framework, and covenantal structure, it reveals God's will and plan for salvation. The Old Testament serves as a Christian book, providing instruction, endurance, and hope for believers. Each part, from Genesis to the wisdom literature like Ecclesiastes and Proverbs, offers fundamental insights into humanity, God's wisdom, and the nature of suffering, making it indispensable for understanding the Gospel message and God's grace.

Miles Van Pelt
Understanding the Old Testament
Lesson 1
Watching Now
Nature of the Bible

I. Introduction to the Old Testament

A. Importance and Overview

B. Thesis Statement

II. Thesis Analysis

A. The Old Testament as a God-breathed Book

1. Biblical Evidence: 2 Timothy 3:16-17

2. Comparison with Genesis 2:7

3. Implications: Living and Active Nature

B. The Living and Life-giving Nature of the Word

1. Scriptural References: Hebrews 4:12, 1 Peter 1:23-25, Psalm 19:7

2. Comparison with Human Existence

C. Guidance by the Spirit of Christ

1. Biblical Support: 1 Peter 1:10-11

2. Influence on Content, Delivery, and Preservation

D. Theological Center, Thematic Framework, and Covenantal Structure

1. Reference: Acts 28:23

2. Kingdom of God as Thematic Framework

3. Covenantal Structure

E. The Old Testament as a Christian Book

1. Scriptural Basis: Romans 15:4, 1 Corinthians 10:11

2. Purpose for Christians: Instruction, Endurance, Hope

3. Unity with the New Testament

4. Recommended Old Testament Books for Non-believers

F. Application and Encouragement

1. Practical Usefulness of the Old Testament

2. Importance of Understanding for Salvation

3. Encouragement for Endurance

4. Conclusion: Unified Narrative of Scripture

  • Engage with the Old Testament to grasp its Gospel-centered nature. From Genesis to Ecclesiastes and Psalms, discover foundational truths, wisdom, and insights on suffering. Strengthen your faith and find enduring hope in God's Word.
  • Gain insight into the Old Testament's theological core, centering on Jesus Christ. Explore its diverse genres, languages, and authors, unified by Jesus as its focal point. Understand how biblical evidence supports Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, shaping interpretation.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Miles Van Pelt provides the thematic framework for the Old Testament. The Old Testament's thematic core is the Kingdom of God. Through this lesson, you'll understand its covenantal nature, from pre-temporal arrangements to various administrations like redemption, works, and grace, unveiling God's salvation plan in Christ.
  • Discover the intricate covenantal structure of the Bible, revealing its theological depth and unity, from the division of the Hebrew Bible to its mirroring in the New Testament, all centered around Jesus Christ.
  • Gain insight into the Pentateuch's covenantal structure, Moses' authorship debate, and evidence supporting it. Understand its significance as the foundation of Israel's relationship with God and its relevance for biblical theology.
  • Through this lesson, you will understand the theological, structural, and thematic intricacies of the book of Genesis. You'll grasp its role as a foundational text in both the Old and New Testaments, exploring themes of covenant, creation, fall, redemption, and the fulfillment of promises. You'll gain insights into the genealogical structure of Genesis, its portrayal of key biblical figures like Adam, Noah, and Abraham, and its connection to the overarching narrative of the gospel.
  • Exodus reveals Yahweh's promise—"I will be with you"—unfolding divine presence and covenant. It anticipates Jesus as fulfillment—a better Moses and Tabernacle—ushering in God's eternal presence among humanity.
  • Studying Leviticus unveils the intricate system of laws and rituals at Mount Sinai. It explains sacrificial atonement, priestly consecration, purity laws, and the theme of holiness, prefiguring Jesus as the ultimate priest, sacrifice, and source of holiness.
  • Discover the Book of Numbers' insights on Israel's journey, God's faithfulness, consequences of disobedience, and parallels to Christ, cautioning against questioning God's holiness and emphasizing His desire to dwell among His people through the Holy Spirit.
  • Gain insight into Deuteronomy's covenant renewal for Israel entering Canaan, emphasizing obedience, typology, and its relevance for Christian living.
  • Gain deep insight into the former prophets, exploring themes of Yahweh's faithfulness, Israel's unfaithfulness, and the typological significance of the Mosaic covenant. Understand its relation to the Abrahamic covenant and its fulfillment in the New Covenant under Jesus, revealing God's plan for restoration.
  • Joshua unveils Joshua's leadership, divine promise fulfillment in Canaan, obedience's significance, and Jesus as the ultimate fulfiller of God's promises.
  • Discover the Book of Judges, detailing Israel's history and faith journey. Learn about judges as deliverers from oppression and idolatry, portraying parallels with Christ's ministry. Uncover a pattern of uncreation due to idolatry, emphasizing the need for an eternal judge—Jesus Christ—to save from corruption.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Miles Van Pelt provides insights into the book of Samuel, exploring its characters, themes, and the transition from judgeship to kingship in Israel. Learn of the significance of the Davidic covenant, culminating in Jesus as the ultimate King of Kings.
  • Gain insights into the Book of Kings, revealing its historical and theological significance. Discover the fulfillment of Davidic covenant, reasons for Israel's exile, and anticipation of the new covenant. Recognize Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of its promises.
  • This lesson reviews latter prophets' insights into Israel's exile for breaking the Mosaic Covenant, the prophetic office's nature, diverse prophecy genres, and the execution of covenant lawsuits, all pointing to God's judgment and hope for restoration.
  • Explore Isaiah's profound prophetic themes, from redemption to impending judgment. Unravel his life and ministry's context, review the debate around authorship, and learn essential tools for study.
  • Enjoy this lesson on Jeremiah, a second Moses figure, and his prophetic message of repentance, redemption, and a new covenant. Explore the book's chiastic structure, historical context, and theological significance, offering hope amidst Judah's fall.
  • Studying Ezekiel reveals its focus on the glory of the Lord and the temple. You learn of Ezekiel's exile, his visions, and themes like covenant theology, creation, and apocalyptic elements, offering profound insights into hope amidst crisis.
  • Discover insights into the minor prophets' diverse genres and themes, from covenant infidelity to divine restoration. Witness Jonah's repentance narrative and prophetic visions culminating in Christ's fulfillment. Embrace Yahweh's justice and compassion, urging Israel's return, leading to Jesus as the ultimate authority.
  • Understand the structure and themes of the Hebrew Bible's writings section. Explore diverse literary forms, intentional divisions mirroring prophets, and the overarching theme of exile and return, illuminating Israel's covenant journey.
  • Discover the depth of the Book of Psalms: 150 songs divided into 5 books, expressing diverse emotions and worship forms. Explore themes, structure, and practical applications for personal devotion and prayer.
  • Gain insights into human suffering and theodicy through Job's trials. Explore themes of faith, resilience, and God's sovereignty amidst adversity. Discover hope in God's incomprehensible sovereignty amid life's trials.
  • Proverbs is a book of timeless wisdom from Solomon, who was gifted by God. By studying this book, you can learn to navigate life with righteousness and discernment, rooted in the fear of the Lord.
  • Journey through Ruth, where redemption, loyalty, and divine providence intertwine. Ruth, a symbol of strength, aligns with Boaz, embodying ancient customs. Their union shapes history, reflecting the enduring legacy of faith amidst life's complexities.
  • Explore the Song of Songs for insights into marriage and intimacy. It navigates the tension between true love and temptation, advocating for unwavering commitment and passionate intimacy, reflecting God's desired relationship. Discover timeless wisdom for modern-day love and marriage.
  • Ecclesiastes reveals life's futility without God, emphasizing the necessity of fearing Him. Through Solomon's wisdom, it prompts reflection on divine purpose amid existential questions.
  • In Lamentations, mourn the fall of Jerusalem and exile, finding hope in God's sovereignty.
  • The book of Esthers contains themes of providence, hiddenness of God, and faithfulness in exile. You will uncover the intricacies of Esther and Mordecai's roles in the deliverance of the Jewish people, as well as the establishment of the festival of Purim. This study will equip you with insights into how God's providence operates amidst human events, even when His presence may seem concealed, and how faithfulness in exile can lead to unexpected outcomes of deliverance and restoration.
  • Through this lesson on the book of Daniel, you'll gain insights into its structure, themes of faithfulness in exile, comparisons with Joseph, and its significance for understanding apocalyptic literature, providing a comprehensive understanding of God's sovereignty and care for His people.
  • Explore Ezra and Nehemiah for insights into post-exilic restoration, intertwining faith, governance, and cultural renewal. These books point towards a deeper longing for true and lasting restoration and echo themes found in apocalyptic literature such as the book of Revelation.
  • The Book of Chronicles traces Israel's history, emphasizing kingship, priesthood, and divine selection. It anticipates restoration, pointing to Jesus as the ultimate priest-king who fulfills God's promises.

Understanding the Old Testament 
Dr. Miles Van Pelt
Nature of the Bible
Lesson Transcript

Welcome to Old Testament Survey for Biblical Training. My name is Miles Van Pelt, and I'll be your instructor for this particular course. I'm excited to do this Old Testament Survey with you because the Old Testament is over 75% of the Christian Bible, and it is just as Gospel-centered and joy-giving as the New Testament in every sense.

But Christians often neglect this book because we think the New Testament is new and it's for Christians, the Old Testament is old and perhaps more of a Jewish book, not necessarily related to Christianity, but it is. So I want to begin with a five-part thesis about the nature of the Old Testament, and you'll see that on my slide. It says, the Bible, including or especially the Old Testament for this course, is a God-breathed book.

It is therefore both living and life-giving. Its human authors were guided by the Spirit of Christ who controlled its content, delivery, and preservation. It has a theological center, a unified thematic framework, and a covenantal structure.

Finally, let's understand that this book is a Christian book, that is, it was written for Christians. So you can see that I have this five-part thesis statement here, and the rest of this little lecture is going to be going over each of those parts and providing biblical evidence for this thesis, as well as some illustrations to go along with it. 

Point number one, the Old Testament is a God-breathed book. Now let's look together at 2 Timothy 3:16 through 17, where Paul is talking to Timothy about the nature of the Scriptures, and for Paul and Timothy at that time, the Scriptures were the Old Testament. The New Testament had not been completed at this time, and Paul says to Timothy here, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." So let's look at that word highlighted on the slide, breathed out by God, or otherwise translated God-breathed, given by inspiration of God, or inspired by God.

What we're saying here is that the Word of God has come out of the mouth of God, breathed out by Him into a living being, as a living being. Think with me about the kind of biblical theology here. When is the only other time in the Bible that someone or something is animated by the breath of God? Way back in Genesis chapter 2, when God created man in His image, He created him from the dust of the ground, and then He breathed into him the breath of life.

Look at Genesis 2:7 with me when it says, "Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life." And the result is that man became a living being. Now before that breath, a man at that point was just a lump of dirt molded into a form, and it was given life by the breath of God.

And when that breath of God leaves at death, it turns right back into dust. So if you think of this, the only difference between me and a pile of dirt is the breath of God that animates me. And there's a lot of things that are different about me and a pile of dirt.

I can talk, I can think, I can live, I can love, I can worship. Dirt cannot do any of that. Let's think about that in relationship to the Bible. If the Bible is a God-breathed book, it is different than every other book ever written. Every other book ever written is dirt when compared to the Bible. Only the Bible is living and active. It's a life-giving force. So we as human beings are connected to the Bible in a very special way. As we live and are animated by the breath of God, so is the word of God animated by that very same breath. 

Point number two, because the Word of God is a God-breathed word, it is therefore also both living and life-giving, just as a human being is when compared to dirt. Consider with me Hebrews 4:12 when it says, "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, of discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Or 1 Peter 1:23 to 25, "Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable through the living and abiding word of God." And then it compares it with us. "All flesh is like grass and all of its glory like the flower of the grass. The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you."

Even the Old Testament has this conception about the life-giving nature of the word of God. In Psalm 19:7 we read, "The law of God is perfect, reviving, or even better, making alive the soul." Point number two, the word of God is both living and life-giving.

Point number three, its human authors were guided by the spirit of Christ who controlled its content, delivery, and preservation. So point one, the word of God is God-breathed. Because it's God-breathed, it's both living and active. And as to the human authors who were involved in producing this God-breathed living word, it was the spirit of Christ in them who controlled its content, delivery, and preservation. Consider with me 1 Peter 1:10 to 11 when we read, "Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours, searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories." That is, all of the authors of the Old Testament, some we know, some we don't know. The one thing we know about both those groups is that they were carried along by the spirit of Christ. So when he shows up in the New Testament as the incarnate word, it was that incarnate word who was controlling and inspiring the written word, the Old Testament. 

Because the word of God is God-breathed, because it's living and active, and because the spirit of Christ carried these authors along in controlling its content and preservation, point four, now it has a theological center, a unified thematic framework, and a covenantal structure. Think of this. Everything God does, he creates in terms of order and function. The days of creation from chaos to cosmos in seven days. The construction of the ark in Noah's day, the construction of the tabernacle or the temple, or even the eschatological temple in the book of Ezekiel or the book of Revelation, it's all well-measured, well-appointed. Each room has a function and a particular reality to it. Everything God does is structured and has meaning.

Even the creation of the human body, our arms and our legs and our head and our torsos all work together in a particular function that makes it all work. And if we were to put our arms and our legs or our heads in different places, we would not be able to function in the same way that we were intended. In the same way, the word of God has this same kind of functional relevance and force to it.

Consider Acts 28:23 with me when it says, "When they had appointed a day for him, that is for Paul, he is now in Rome for two years, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. And then from morning till evening, he," that is the apostle Paul, "expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from both the law of Moses and the prophets." Now we're going to spend a lot more time talking about the significance of these three categories in subsequent lectures, but let me just point out to you that Paul is talking about Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God, and his textbook is the law of Moses and the prophets.

And we're going to come to realize that Jesus Christ is going to form the theological center of the entire Old Testament and even the New Testament. That is, he's the one thing that will make sense of all the diversity in our Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments. The kingdom of God is going to serve as the thematic framework.

That is, it's going to be the grand theme within which all other themes are fitted. From the prophet, the priest, the king, the scribe, the Levite, creation, chaos, and redemption, all of those are kingdom of God themes and fit within that framework. The kingdom is expressed using covenant, so kingdom through covenant, the thematic framework. 

And then finally, the textbook that Paul was using to convince people about Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God was The Law of Moses and the Prophets, which is a shorthand expression to talk about the Old Testament that he had in his hands at that day. So we can imagine, here we have this Jesus Christ crucified, died, risen, and ascended, and Paul is trying to convince all of the people around him about Jesus Christ's crucifixion, his death, his resurrection, and ascension from the Old Testament. He wasn't doing it from the New Testament. He wasn't doing it from the Gospels. He was doing it from places like Genesis and Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers, Judges, the book of Psalms, Isaiah, Chronicles, and all of those Old Testament books that we have. Paul was using that as his textbook for explaining Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God. 

Finally, our fifth point, which is very important, is that this book that is the Old Testament is a Christian book.It was written for Christians. When I grew up, I always thought that the New Testament was written for me, and the Old Testament was maybe something interesting to read or it was a nice book about the kind of people that Jesus came out of, the Jewish people from whom Jesus emerged to be our Messiah, but it wasn't anything for me in terms of giving me joy or hope or allowing me to understand or apprehend the nature of the Gospel and God's grace toward me. That was all New Testament business. Old Testament, angry God. New Testament, happy God. Old Testament, judgment, condemnation. New Testament, salvation and redemption, but that's not true at all.

The Old Testament is just as Gospel-centered and Gospel-driven as the New Testament. And so this is a Christian book. The Old Testament is for Christians. Consider Paul when he's talking in Romans 15:4 when he says, for whatever was written in former days was written for our, I'll put in there Christian, instruction, that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope.

Look at what Paul is saying here, that the Old Testament was written for our instruction and so if we're not instructed by it, we fail to apprehend the goodness that it has for us. Also, it was written to give us endurance, encouragement, and hope. And so one of the things I hope that comes out of these lectures is that we have been encouraged, that we have greater hope, and that we now can endure better in this world before Christ returns and brings us home.

Finally, 1 Corinthians 10:11 says something very similar. "Now these things," that is the things that happened in the Old Testament, here they're talking about in 1 Corinthians 10, things that happened in the book of Exodus. "Now these things happened to them as an example or as a type, but they were written down for our instruction, for a Christian instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come." So point five, this book is a Christian book. It was written for Christians. The Old Testament is just as Christian a book as the New Testament. They are two halves or two parts, better, of the same book, a unified narrative from creation, going all the way through the fall, redemption, and glorification and consummation at the end.

It's one grand narrative scheme that is unified both in terms of its function and in terms of its message. Going back to this five-part thesis, the Old Testament is God-breathed, it's living and life-giving, its human authors were carried along by the Spirit of Christ, a theological center, a unified thematic framework, and a canonical structure, and it's a Christian book written for Christians. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it like this, "Although the light of nature and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God as to leave men without excuse, think of Romans 1, yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and of his will which is necessary unto salvation."

That is, the word of God tells us how God has come to save his people. "Therefore, it pleased the Lord at various times and in diverse manners to reveal himself and to declare his will to his church and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh and the malice of Satan and of the world. To commit the same wholly unto writing which makes the holy Scriptures to be the most necessary, those former ways of God revealing his will unto his people now being ceased."

Then in paragraph 7, it says, "All things in Scripture are not alike plain unto themselves," we'll talk about this later as it applies to how we interpret the Bible, "nor alike clear unto all, yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded and opened in some place in Scripture or another that not only the educated but the uneducated in a due use of the ordinary means may attain a sufficient understanding of them." That is, in the Old Testament and especially also in the New Testament, we're going to encounter many, many things that we clearly understand but also that we struggle to understand. But the fundamental message of Scripture is clear that we have a theological center Jesus Christ, a kingdom of God framework, and a covenantal structure that's going to guide us as we approach and work through the Old Testament.

You said that the Old Testament or Scripture is a book for Christians. Are there parts of the Bible that are beneficial or would help people who aren't Christians to kind of start to come to an understanding of the message of the gospel like Genesis or Ruth or Ecclesiastes or things like that? How would you recommend that people who aren't believers that you could recommend something to them to get started? 

Sure. I think maybe three books come to mind, maybe even four books come to mind for me when we think about maybe introducing non-believers to the Old Testament.

Number one would be the Book of Genesis because the book of Genesis tells us who God is, where we came from, and what we were created to be and do. So it's kind of the very fundamental part of what it is to be human. God is the creator of heaven and earth. We are created in his image and we were created to enter into his rest as the bride of Christ. And we get this from the first two chapters of Genesis. And then Genesis chapter three teaches us how we failed to enter into that rest and then how he's going to come and save us from our failings. So that'd be the first place because it just gives such fundamental information about the nature of humanity and who God is. 

Number two, I think the book of Ecclesiastes in the wisdom literature. Perhaps all of the wisdom literature would be a good place to be. So like Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and even the Song of Songs because these are in some sense the creator of the universe is giving us an operating manual in terms of how to best live in this world. So if you own a brand new camera, you read the operating manual so you know how to operate that camera to its fullest potential. But if you don't, you fail to reap the benefits and you can see kind of, you know, wouldn't it be great if the person who built this world showed us how it worked.

And that's wisdom literature. And the thing about Ecclesiastes that's good for the non-believer or someone who's struggling to believe is that it tells you what life is like without God. And the thesis statement is, vanity is all is vanity when you live a life under the sun.And that expression under the sun means you're living a life without recognizing that God is the creator of the heavens and the earth. And so then he goes back at the end, the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep his commands. So I think Genesis and Ecclesiastes would be really important, but also Proverbs because it shows you that the God who created all of the world is also a very wise person.

Maybe the Book of Psalms to know the nature of his worthiness to be praised and worshiped. And then perhaps something like Job because it deals with the issue of human suffering and suffering is a plight that is universal to human life. It tells us or captures for us a little bit about why we suffer and how God relates to us in our suffering.